On April 29, 2013, after 17 months of negotiations, the musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra ratified a “return to work” agreement, effective April 30 through June 30, 2013, and a three-year agreement spanning July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2016. This ratification came after a 191-day lockout during which the musicians received no salary or benefits. It was the first work stoppage in the history of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
In the spring of 2011, management communicated to the musicians its then current and future dire financial projections for the organization. When our negotiations began in December 2011, management stated that musician givebacks of $1.5 million would be needed in each year of a three-year agreement to “align our fixed expenses with our predictable, sustainable revenue.” Their “vision for a vibrant future” included “achieving financial goals while maintaining the artistic excellence of the orchestra.” In order to achieve these financial goals, their initial proposals included draconian cuts in base salary. They offered no vision as to how they would sustain artistic vibrancy with that extremely low salary offer.
To further complicate the process, President and Managing Director Sarah Lutman resigned on March 1, 2012. Dobson West, the chair of the SPCO board, was appointed interim president by the board. A search committee was formed to find Ms. Lutman’s replacement, but little progress was made before the decision was made by the SPCO Society to halt the search process while negotiations were ongoing. After our contract ratification, the search committee announced the appointment of Bruce Coppock, president and CEO of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1999 to 2008. A formal search never occurred.
The Society did not present the union with a concrete proposal until April 2012, after a hiatus due to scheduling conflicts. Management’s first proposal was for a two-tiered orchestra with cuts in wages of between 56% and 67%. That offer included: varying numbers of guaranteed weeks for different positions, base salaries ranging from $27,000 to $32,000, no overscale except for principals, no paid vacation, half salary for weeks of chamber music, and the same level of benefits as the staff.
By September, they were still proposing a two-tiered pay structure, now with new hires to be paid a base salary of $50,000 and musicians currently in the orchestra to receive an additional “overscale” of $12,500. Their mantra continued to be that they needed to get the “fixed costs in line with the sustainable revenues,” and their proposal was another way to achieve this. In addition, the Society wanted to have the right to eliminate any position in the orchestra with six months’ notice and $100,000 severance pay.
The CBA expired on September 30, 2012, and the orchestra continued to play concerts while the committee worked hard to come to an agreement, offering $1 million in concessions over the course of a three-year agreement. On October 17, the Society advised the union that they would need to start cancelling concerts because they felt that the economic offers from the union were not low enough to allow them to sustain the organization. On October 21, the musicians of the SPCO were locked out. On October 31, the musicians unanimously rejected the Society’s “voting offer.”
In addition, in separate negotiations, the Society proposed electronic media provisions that were not acceptable to the American Federation of Musicians. No progress was made until March and April of 2013, even though the Society had been presented with the idea of signing the Integrated Media Agreement approximately one year earlier.
Starting in December 2012, the musicians of the SPCO presented three different self-produced concerts. The first was an all-Mozart program with former music director Pinchas Zukerman. The second included two performances of the Messiah with former music director Hugh Wolff. Finally, an unconducted program of Italian Baroque concertos featured soloists from within the orchestra.
Off-the-record talks began in January to see if a play and talk agreement could be accomplished. On February 8, the union was given a proposal that would give minor increases in salary to new hires, starting at $50,000, with current musicians receiving $12,500 in overscale, or an alternative one-tier pay structure in which all musicians would receive $56,000, $57,000, and $58,000. The musicians found neither of these offers acceptable, given that our salary had been $73,232 during the 2011–2012 season, which was already a lower rate due to a contract reopener. The salary rate for 2011– 2012 was supposed to have been $78,223 during the 2011–2012 season, and musicians were paid this rate at the beginning of the 2012–2013 season until October 21. This offer showed some improvement, but nothing that the committee felt the musicians would accept.
In March, Mayor Chris Coleman of Saint Paul became involved in negotiations at the request of Brad Eggen, president of Local 30-73. The mayor suggested that he would try to get the Society to make significant improvements in their proposal in exchange for the musicians’ negotiating committee’s agreeing to submit their proposal for a vote. On March 18, the musicians’ committee received a revised proposal, which included an increase in their previous offer from $56,000, $57,000, and $58,000 to $60,000 for all three years.
The musicians’ negotiating committee and the management met with the mayor one full day to work on some difficult issues, including artistic review and substitute pay. When management sent its version of what had been accomplished at the mayor’s office to our committee, there were discrepancies between that version and what we felt we had agreed to. The agreement between the mayor and the musicians’ committee had been that the managements’ contract language proposal needed to reflect the outline management submitted to the mayor. The musicians’ negotiating committee submitted a list of discrepancies to the mayor, but Mayor Coleman did not get them resolved.
At the mayor’s insistence the negotiating committee held a meeting on April 1 to conduct a non-binding, non-ratification vote to determine whether we were getting closer to a proposal that the musicians could live with. It was overwhelmingly rejected.
The mayor worked more to improve the areas that were of concern, but only minor changes were made to the management’s proposal. Again, the musicians were asked by the mayor to vote. On April 17, the musicians’ negotiating committee received an email from President Dobson West stating that the deadline to vote on their recent proposal was Monday, April 22. This was the first we had heard of this deadline, and the committee agreed to present the proposal to the musicians only after seeing the exact language that the Society was proposing. Our committee received this language on April 18.
Because it was difficult to achieve a quorum needed for a ratification vote, the only date to meet before the April 22 deadline was April 20. These time constraints gave our committee little time to correct the problems found with the language in the newest proposal.
During the April 20 meeting, the musicians voted to approve a mailed paper ballot vote, which would ensure that all musicians would be able to vote in a manner consistent with AFM voting rules. This allowed for more negotiations to occur on April 21 and 22, and as a result the committee was able to strongly recommend ratification. The musicians gave up another week of pay as voting by mail meant that management’s deadline of April 22 could not be met.
On April 29, the ballots were counted, and the Agreement was ratified. The lockout officially ended on April 30, with rehearsals beginning on May 7. After more than six months without salary or benefits, with the possibility of the remainder of the 2012–2013 season being cancelled and the 2013–2014 season in jeopardy, and with the improvements that had been negotiated on April 21 and 22, the musicians felt that the best path to saving the was to ratify this regressive agreement and to hope for a better future.
As of June 11th, 10 musicians have accepted a special retirement package offered to musicians aged 55 and older that was part of our settlement. Additionally, our principal clarinet retired in September 2012, and we also have vacancies from before the lockout (principal cello, principal viola, and principal horn). Our principal second violin, Kyu Young Kim, won a position in the New York Philharmonic but decided to stay with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra after management offered him the position of senior director of artistic planning—the first time that position has been filled by a musician in the orchestra. He will also retain his position as principal second.
Now we begin the arduous task of rebuilding the orchestra back up to 28 positions. It will be up to our “Instrumentation Committee,” a new committee composed of musicians, management, and two other people selected by the president, Bruce Coppock, to decide which positions should be filled first and when to schedule the auditions. It will take years to rebuild ourselves into an orchestra that will again make ties with our community.